“Dear God, sorry I haven’t written to you in a while…” it said in the guestbook

Logs_FraserRiver_VancouverAs a follow-on to yesterday’s piece from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, who lives on a boat near Vancouver… overnight, she sent me this.


In a Catholic Chapel at an institution that I visited recently, there was a notebook, like a guestbook, where people had written letters directly to God.

So I leafed through it.

Most were short and unhappy requests for help with medical problems, but I was struck by one friendly letter which began:

Dear God, sorry I haven’t written to you in a while…

I felt the vague urge to write something in it too – any kind of book with individual entries is tempting – but I stopped myself.

Right now, I am sitting in a chair on a deck at the tip of Lulu Island, where the Fraser River splits into three channels. I can see powerboats racing around and the river is strewn with logs from the freshet.

This is the worst time of year for drownings,

Last week one man was found dead after he crashed a jet-ski and another man vanished while swimming with a group around the foundation of a bridge.

The north arm of the Fraser River is the skinniest and maybe the spookiest. In the background is Tree Island, a burial ground.

A few nights ago in the dark, near my boat, I found a life ring (a lifebuoy, in British English) in the water, with something unidentifiable stuck in the middle. I noticed it was attached by a rope to something. I lifted it out of the water and then quickly dropped it back with a splash. I thought: It can wait until morning.

The next day I saw what it was.

One of my neighbours had put a potted lavender plant in the middle of the life ring.

“It will never grow,” said another neighbour. “Salt water.”

The best-known person I heard of dying in the Fraser River was the famed Manx landscape painter Toni Onley, who crashed his amphibious plane into it in 2004.

I was on my boat when I heard the news. I like his work.

His body was found three months after his plane crashed and I had kept wondering if it might float past. I was rather hoping it might, just so he would not be lost forever. They found him when a small boat operator noticed his body floating in a log boom, about four kilometres downstream from where his plane crashed.

He had crashed another plane on top of a glacier a few years earlier, landing on top of a crevasse and he had written an interesting description of that experience.

Just before he died, he had been practising takeoffs and landings on the river, east of Vancouver.

He had been born in Douglas, on the Isle of Man, in 1928. He moved to Canada in 1948.

In 1955, he won an award at the Western Ontario annual show of young artists. Later, he exhibited at the Royal Canadian Academy and the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colours. His collage paintings won critical recognition and he used a Royal Canadian Academy award to fund further study in England. His award-winning painting Polar No. 1 was presented to the Tate Gallery in London for a 1963 exhibition.

When I first went to England, the thing I thought was the most fascinating was not the music or fashion or comedy. It was the plastic pudding or jello molds (jelly moulds, in British English) shaped like a sort of realistic rabbit that you could buy at Woolworths. I made crème caramel in them and red raspberry jelly rabbits.

One time, I went on a picnic in Epping Forest with John Hegley and some other comedians. I brought one of the jelly rabbits with me but we were chased out of our picnic spot by an aggressive herd of cattle.

I have a Victorian book about the regulations in Epping Forest. At that time, both photography and  dancing were not allowed in the park.

I used the jelly rabbits in my comedy act and mailed the molds to my friends in Canada. I could not understand how something so beautiful, fun and inexpensive wasn’t all over the world. I think my English friends were puzzled that I liked those molds so much.

2 Comments

Filed under Canada, Death

2 responses to ““Dear God, sorry I haven’t written to you in a while…” it said in the guestbook

  1. Owen Morgan

    What a tragic blog- drowning is a horrible way to go. Poor people- but people don’t need to write to God, they can just pray. if it helps them to put pen to paper then all to the good, but prayer is more effective and God always listens and helps those in distress.

  2. Keith Martin

    When i tried to survive in Vancouver, i was told that it has more inches of rain than our Manchester. True? I believe so. I have also survived in Manchester.

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